When You And A Date Disagree

You and your sweetie – sooner or later – will have a spat. Here, how to handle it with grace.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

ven if you’ve just started dating, disagreements can occur. So how can you keep them from ruining your day—and your date? Take a hint from Proverbs 15:1, which advises: “A soft answer turneth away wrath; But a grievous word stirreth up anger.”

Yet it’s hard to be constructive during a disagreement. We know we should turn the other cheek
Some of us have a hard time articulating our thoughts.
and all that, but when our feelings are hurt or we feel judged, that’s not easy to do. And it’s even harder when we’re dating someone new.

Why we avoid arguments
“We want to appear to be as interesting, appealing and sophisticated as we hope they are,” explains Kate Larsen, author of Progress Not Perfection: Your Journey Matters—and that image probably doesn’t involve getting into a spat. “Some may think difficult conversations mean conflict, so avoid conflict at all costs. That does not mean we are unwilling to have difficult conversations, just not ready. Some of us have a hard time articulating our thoughts, feelings and reactions. Because we want to impress someone new, we may fear that truth or difficult topics may create a disconnect between us and this new person.” But the truth is, even in the best relationships, there are times that tough conversations must be had… in fact, having them can bring two people closer.

Fighting fair
How can you overcome this and have the constructive conversation necessary to resolve conflict?

Follow these five steps:
  1. Set ground rules. “If couples agree to the three ground rules, there are very few issues we can’t dissect, examine and resolve,” says Dallas-based mediator and communication expert Anne French, author of The Gift of Words. The rules: No interrupting, no negating ideas, and no unbridled negativity and defensiveness.
  2. Be patient. “Recognize that time and testing the waters will be important,” Larsen says. “Don’t rush into difficult conversations. Anticipate that you and this other person have different styles and temperaments, so each of you will most likely approach difficult conversations in different ways. Take it from a psychology major who married a finance major.”
  3. Listen actively. “I’m not talking about the passive kind of thing we do where we sit there nodding our heads,” French says. “I’m talking about actively listening to our partner, without interrupting, taking notes to make sure you’ve heard and understood the most vital points of the problem.”
  4. Be honest. “Set boundaries about what you need, believe and/or want,” Larsen says. “And allow the other person to do the same.”
  5. Reserve judgment. “Be open-minded and receptive to various possibilities for resolving a problem,” French counsels. “Some of the best solutions come initially from the craziest ideas.”
Find a fresh perspective
It all really comes down to our intention, though. If we want to punish the other person, scare him or her, or ‘be right,’ then all the tips in the world aren’t going to net a constructive outcome. Why? “Because you’d rather
“It’s really easy to make arguments about the other person.”
be right than get what you really want,” explains Phil Holcomb, a Seattle-based personal growth coach. “Being right isn’t worth much after the argument is over, though, is it?” Especially if you’ve pushed your new love away from you—and hard!

So we’re often better served by focusing on what we actually want over the long term, not in the heat of the moment. Homing in on that intent guides the discussion to a more beneficial result because you’re clear about your goal and your date is more likely to listen.

“It’s really easy to make arguments about the other person,” Holcomb says. “It’s really easy to want everyone to agree with everything you think. But if you want a good, lasting relationship, you have to work at being a good, lasting partner” (who perhaps isn’t always right).

How do you do that? “Focus on the big things — your values and beliefs — rather than the small things like who’s paying or what one of you did (or didn’t do),” he says. “If your relationship is more important than ‘being right,’ let go of the other stuff.” And if it’s not, then let go of the other person.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a Carrboro, NC-based freelance writer who also pens the Ask Margot advice column. Send your faith-based dating quandaries to her at
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